By Darren Casserly
With the announcement of Ian Madigan’s upcoming move to Ulster following four years away from Ireland, it did not take long for media outlets to question if a return to the Irish setup is out of the question. With the injury problems that the Irish team is undergoing at the minute, as well as Madigan’s ability to play multiple positions, it is very much a possibility.
This got me thinking about one of the IRFU’s current policies, and it is not a new discussion, very much to the contrary, the discussion of whether we need to start selecting overseas Irish players has been around for years. This policy has been in effect to try and keep a hold of our best players here, so as to keep the club game strong, yet, while the club game has gone from strength to strength over the last few years, including another Leinster Heineken Cup victory, the Irish team has not gone any further in the World Cup.
This policy must now come into question after so many years. Is it time to consider a change in an effort to try and achieve success at international level? There has only been one exception to the rule in recent years in the form of Johnny Sexton. This choice was made because of how key Sexton was to the Irish side. They were willing to bend the rules for him. This policy, up until the last five years, has not harmed the national team, with the majority of players leaving these shores already being overlooked at home and deciding to focus on the club game, such as Marty Moore and Ian Madigan, who were never key players at home. However, this is beginning to change with the departure of key players such as Simon Zebo and Donnacha Ryan, which has damaged the national side.
This loss has been, to a point, subsidised by the use of foreign-born players playing their club rugby in Ireland by using the pretty lax, by any measure, three-year residence rule. There has been a lot of controversy with this rule, yet, it is a hell of a lot better than the granny rule in football. This has undoubtedly allowed a lot of top–quality players such as Bundee Aki and CJ Stander to put on the green jersey. It has made me think would people prefer Irish players playing club rugby abroad playing for Ireland or foreign players playing club rugby in Ireland to pull on the green jersey? Or an alternative where the best players available play for Ireland?
The major concern from the IRFU is would the club game remain as strong with players having more options to play for their country? Yet, you would have to wonder, is the club game not strong enough to withstand a change like this? It would also mean more Irish players playing at the top level and giving a chance to some players who would have otherwise been overlooked to show if they can do it. And at the end of the day, how much would Irish fans do for a World Cup victory?